Dark Magus is a live recording of a very specific 1974 Carnegie Hall date that included most, but not all, of the members who recorded the classics Agharta and Pangaea. While drummer Al Foster, bassist Michael Henderson, percussionist James Mtume, and guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas were all present, the key element of Sonny Fortune was not yet in the band. Saxophonists David Liebman and Azar Lawrence were doubling in the saxophone chairs, while Dominique Gaumont, with his Jimi Hendrix-styled effects and riffs, was the band's third guitarist. The deep voodoo funk that gelled on the aforementioned recordings hadn't yet come together on this night at Carnegie, near the end of a tour. Featuring four titles, all of them Swahili names for the numbers one through four, Dark Magus is a jam record. In his liner notes to the CD issue, Liebman explains that this wasn't the band at its best - perhaps he was referring to his playing, which is certainly unimaginative compared to what the rest of the band is laying down chromatically. By this point, Miles was no longer really rehearsing his bands; they showed up and caught a whiff of what he wanted and went with it. Rhythms, colors, keys - all of them would shift and change on a whim from Davis. There were no melodies outside of a three-note vamp on "Wili" and a few riff-oriented melodics on "Tatu" - the rest is all deep rhythm-based funk and dark groove. Greasy, mysterious, and full of menacing energy, Dark Magus shows a band at the end of its rope, desperate to change because the story has torn itself out of the book, but not knowing where to go, turning in on itself. These dynamics have the feel of unresolved, boiling tension. Gaumont's effects-laden guitar playing overshadows the real guitarists in the band: Cosey and his partner, the rhythmically inventive Lucas. Gaumont doesn't fit naturally, so he tries to dazzle his way in - check the way Miles cuts his solos off so abruptly while letting the others dovetail and segue. Ultimately, Dark Magus is an over-the-top ride into the fragmented mind of Miles and his 1974 band; its rhythm section is the most compelling of any jazz-rock band in history, but the front lines, while captivating, are too loose and uneven to sustain the listener for the entire ride.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)